After Trump . . . Peace?

Standard

There have been many celebrations about the overthrow of tyrants. We always expect that when the tyrant has gone there will be a flowering of righteousness; that good people will step into the light, take the vacant helm and steer the ship of state onto the right course.

The right course always means our own – of course. In the Western World the right course is towards democracy, capitalism and individual rights. We felt cheated when China adopted our technology and business models, moved into our markets and grew rich, but failed to adopt our politics and morals. That wasn’t the deal! And what about Russia? Iraq? Libya? Myanmar?

Now we rejoice in Joe Biden’s victory. Another tyrant has been overthrown. Will we be disappointed again? Will the unhealthy miasma that produced the phenomenon of Trumpery be blown out to sea by the Bidon/Harris breeze? Or will it linger? Will the honest efforts of good people be brought to nothing by an infection that they barely understand and lack the tools to fight?

Let me change the subject, but only slightly. I have tried to think of an instance where bitter fighting has been brought to an end without a clear victory and decisive defeat. I cannot. Can you?

It was not the US presidential election that prompted me to think along these lines, but the outbreak of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This is not a new fight. Wikipedia has a good account of its dismal history. Can generations of genuinely-felt grievance be ended at a conference table? Can some outsider mediate a lasting peace? Will a signed piece of paper stop the bloodshed?

I think not. I think one side must win and the other side must lose. Clearly and decisively. Like Donald Trump, the loser will have to surrender before the fighting can stop. Usually this means fighting until one side is too exhausted, broken and broke to carry on. Then a kind of healing can begin. Some of the closest allies were once the bitterest of foes.

And this brings me to a conclusion that surprises me. For all the things that Trump did wrong, history may judge him well for siding uncritically with the Rogue State of Israel, climaxing in a deal with the UAE. Much as one weeps for the dispossession and oppression of the Palestinian people, perhaps they have to accept and acknowledge defeat at their oppressors’ hands before they can heal and rebuild – helped by generous gazillions from Israel’s friends.

Pope Francis in Armenia

Standard

The centre of Yerevan (Armenia’s capital city) has never been so quiet. Streets are closed off around the temporary stage on the south side of Republic Square, where Pope Francis will this afternoon address dignitaries and whoever can find standing room within earshot of the loudspeakers.

Pope_ArmenianGenocide

Armenia was the first country in the world to become officially Christian, beating the Roman Empire by 79 years.  As in Russia, religion has become an important signifier of nationality, and virtually every Armenian is a follower of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

The Armenian Church belongs to the Eastern Orthodox tradition, which diverged from Roman Catholicism after the Great Schism of 1054 – the eleventh century equivalent of Brexit.  So a visit by the Pope is a big deal.  It represents a handshake between two branches of the Christian faith – a demonstration of unity of purpose in a fragmented world.

But more than that, in April Pope Francis described the killing of over a million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as ‘genocide’, for which he was reprimanded by the Turkish Government which immediately recalled its envoy to the Vatican.  His first act on landing in Yerevan yesterday was to visit the Genocide Memorial.

Armenia wants international recognition of its proud history, its victimhood and its legitimacy as a nation.  Armenia also wants acceptance of the claims of the Armenian enclave Ngorno Karabakh to independence from Azerbaijan.  Frankly, Armenians cannot understand how anyone could disagree with this interpretation of history and international law.

It is easy to understand why Armenians attach such importance to this visit by someone of Pope Francis’s political and moral standing, and his implicit endorsement of their world view.

Two Statues

Standard

Yesterday two statues were unveiled in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. I saw one about to be erected as I walked to a meeting. When I came out of the meeting it was in place but shrouded, with workmen putting the finishing touches to its installation:

YerevanStatue_3  YerevanStatue_1

The subject is Garegin Nzhdeh, born Garegin Ter-Harutyunyan, an Armenian national hero, soldier and statesman who took on the Ottoman and Russian Empires and the Soviet Union during his 69-year life (1886-1955). The photo below (which I borrowed from that admirable fount of knowledge Wikipedia) shows him as a proud, armed and decorated warrior.

Garegin

But there were two unveilings yesterday.  The other was a seated statue of Marshal Hamazasp Babajanian, an acclaimed tank commander for the Soviet Union in the Second World War.  It has been criticised on aesthetic grounds.  Judge for yourself:

StatueBabajanyan

When I first posted on this topic I mistakenly reported that the second statue depicted Anastas Mikoyan, known in Armenia as ‘the executioner’.  A proposal to erect a statue of Mikoyan provoked such negative public reaction that it did not go forward.  My original text is reproduced below in italics.

REPLACED TEXT

The other was a statue of Anastas Mikoyan. He was Armenia’s highest profile Soviet politician, serving under Lenin and all subsequent leaders up to and including Brezhnev. He was instrumental in carrying out Stalin’s bloody orders in his homeland, earning him the nickname ‘the executioner’.

Predictably, many people have been surprised to see Mikoyan honoured with a statue, albeit in a less central location than Garegin Nzhdeh’s. The most plausible explanation that I am aware of is that it is a sop to Russia, on whose good will Armenia depends, neatly balancing the honour given to a nationalist who tried to liberate at least a part of Armenia from Soviet rule.

Armenia is a small, poor, landlocked nation with two hostile neighbours: Turkey and Azerbaijan (with whom shots are being exchanged on the border as I write). Armenia cannot afford to anger its one powerful friend.

As a postscript, Anastas Mikoyan had a famous brother Artem, an aircraft designer. The ‘Mi’ in Mikoyan combines with the ‘G’ in the name of Artem’s partner Mikhail Gurevich to make the famous acronym ‘MiG’.

Smile !

Standard

For years I was reluctant to smile in a full-scale, open mouthed, toothy sort of way. Now I do it all the time – so much so that people are reluctant to sit next to me on buses.

Why? Last year I had some dental work done, of a frankly cosmetic nature.  The pictures below show what can be done by an expert over a dozen-or-so sessions.  I haven’t labelled them ‘Before’ and ‘After’ but I think you can work it out.  I’m amazed at how bad my teeth got before I succumbed to pressure to do something about them.  I’m equally amazed at the extent of the transformation.

Teeth_before

Teeth_after

You will want to know the name of the miracle-worker, and if your teeth are half-as bad as mine were you’ll want to know his address too. He is Dr Vatche Kishmishian, Oral and Dental Surgeon at the Avanta Dental Clinic at 5 Zakyan Street, Yerevan, Armenia.  The ’phone number is +374 10 521195.

What Vatche did in my mouth cost about US$2,000. If you live in Australia or the USA it could be worth an airfare and a month’s rent for a Yerevan apartment to let him work his magic on you too.